Packers’ Thompson: ‘The way to draft is to take best player’
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Ted Thompson has already been through 10 drafts as general manager of the Green Bay Packers. That’s enough to know what works and what doesn’t.
Thompson’s experiences have guided him this far, and it’s made him believe strongly in a specific philosophy as he approaches the 2015 NFL Draft.
Most are in agreement of what the Packers’ biggest need is this year. Inside linebacker became such an issue that by the midpoint of last season Green Bay took star outside linebacker Clay Matthews and gave him a new position. With A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones being released this offseason, it’s obvious that Thompson was ready to move in a new direction at inside linebacker and now has a significant hole to fill.
But if anyone thinks that makes Thompson more likely to select an inside linebacker in the first round, well, not so fast.
"There’s a certain amount of weighting in terms of need, but I am adamant that that’s not the way to draft," Thompson said Wednesday. "The way to draft is to take the best player. You don’t know what you’re going to need. You think you need something, but this isn’t play time or anything like that. This is real life. People get banged up, injuries happen. Life happens.
"What you think you’re strong at, you’re not necessarily strong at. If you take good, solid players that you know can contribute, albeit at a position that’s maybe a little bit heavier, as long as you’re taking good, solid players you’re getting some value there.
"If you reach and take something that’s not quite as good, then you may not be getting the same value. I know you don’t believe that, but it’s true. That’s what we do."
Sometimes, the draft can fall perfectly for a team and the best player available also happens to fit the biggest need. It happened for Thompson in 2014 when landing safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st overall pick.
If the Packers select an inside linebacker at No. 30 in the first round next week, it’d undoubtedly help the team’s current weakest position. However, this year’s draft doesn’t have a Ryan Shazier or a C.J. Mosley. There’s not that dominant inside linebacker who deserves to be drafted within the first 20 picks.
There are a handful of inside linebackers, though, who could go anywhere from late in the first round to midway through the third round. Thompson has never been the type of executive to even somewhat tip his hand, but he certainly might have his preference among that group of players.
The evaluations of NFLDraftScout.com and Joel Klatt of FOX Sports are in agreement that this year’s best inside linebacker is UCLA’s Eric Kendricks. But even Kendricks isn’t thought of as a surefire first-round talent.
Would Green Bay be better off waiting until its second-round pick (No. 62) and selecting the best available inside linebacker then? Perhaps at that spot Thompson could more easily overlook the lack of height from Denzel Perryman or the character concerns of Paul Dawson or the questionable instincts of Benardrick McKinney.
"The question is how much value, and for how long is that value going to be there," Thompson said. "That’s the way we look at it. You can’t get wacked out about the here and now, because that’s not the overriding issue. Our overriding issue is making sure we make value picks."
Given this year’s class of inside linebackers, none of them represent a great "value pick" in the first round.
Losing both Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency has turned the cornerback group into somewhat of a need. Casey Hayward and Sam Shields could be a quality pairing as starting outside cornerbacks, and Thompson did just draft Demetri Goodson in the sixth round last year. So even that might not be considered a strong need in Thompson’s mind.
"We feel OK (at cornerback)," Thompson said. "We’ve got some young guys that we think can play and we’re going to give them a chance. We would have preferred to have kept all our guys — we always do. Like I said down at the Combine, like I always say, if we can keep our guys, that’s preferable."
Washington cornerback Marcus Peters would represent a great value pick at No. 30 based on his talent. But there are character concerns with Peters, as well.
It’s players like that who force Thompson’s staff to work overtime. The good thing for the Packers is the continuity that exists in the front office. That allows the evaluation process to be run more smoothly.
"We’ve been all together for a long time, especially if you count going back into the ’90s, so we’ve kind of got this down," Thompson said. "We know what takes time, what doesn’t take time. Most of the grind stuff is over with."
When top draft picks fail, like 2012 second-rounder Jerel Worthy or 2011 first-rounder Derek Sherrod, it’s on Thompson. He knows that. He accepts that.
If one of his scouts was spot-on with a pick in recent years, Thompson admitted he’ll sometimes weigh that person’s opinion a bit more. But no matter how Thompson delegates, it doesn’t change where the criticism — or praise — falls.
"Everybody has their say, (but) it’s not a democracy," Thompson said. "We don’t vote. Ultimately I make the call."
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